The 50 Year Apology
by C.A. Matthews
It’s amazing how fast your mind can go back in time when you hear a name or see a face that you haven’t seen in almost 50 years.
This week I’m taking the wise advice of Vegematic (subscribe to his YouTube channel and watch his latest here) and taking a break from the stress of the current headlines. I’m tripping down Memory Lane and writing about something that greatly interested me when I was younger, namely film-making and Hollywood.
I wanted to be a movie director/documentary maker when I was fresh out of high school. My dream never materialized, but I’ve followed some film creatives over the years. One face that I saw on television at the Academy Awards Show almost fifty years ago flashed in front of me this past week.
It made me think of how “important”
I thought the Hollywood elite were back then. Now
I know better—they are simply puppets, repeating what the oligarchs
want repeating so the struggling masses don’t rise up and overthrow
the oligarchy. As puppets, what they say and do isn't all that important to me anymore, but I still find their actions and non-actions fascinating.
Zach Sharf of Variety sets the scene:
Sacheen Littlefeather dominated headlines this week after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a formal apology to her for the mistreatment she faced at the 1973 Oscars. Littlefeather, who was 26 years old at the ceremony, took to the stage on behalf of Marlon Brando, who was named best actor for “The Godfather,” and declined the award for him. Brando cited Hollywood’s problematic portrayal of “Native American Indian people in film and television” as his reason for rejecting the Oscar.
(...)“[John Wayne] did not like what I was saying up at the podium,” Littlefeather said. “So, he came forth in a rage to physically assault and take me off the stage. And he had to be restrained by six security men in order for that not to happen.”“It was interesting because some people were giving me the tomahawk chop. I thought, ‘This is very racist. Very racist indeed.’ And I just gracefully walked and ignored them,” Littlefeather continued.
Samantha Ibrahim of The NY Post tells us what all the apology entails:
Littlefeather was sent a formal apology from the Academy earlier this summer regarding the incident and is set to be gifted a longer one during an event titled “An Evening With Sacheen Littlefeather” come September.
“The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” wrote former Academy President David Rubin in the note. “The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable.
“For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged,” he continued. “For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”
Here's a clip of what actually happened that night:
Almost fifty years later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wants to make a formal apology to Sacheen Littlefeather. They want to say they’re sorry for allowing a bunch of racist assholes to taunt and boo her statement, a political statement she made on behalf of her friend Marlon Brando. They want to say they didn’t agree with John Wayne’s drunken threats, but they don’t want to come out and simply say that Hollywood's most beloved Western actor (and huge money-maker to this day) John Wayne was wrong, either.
But come on! Fifty freakin’ years? What was the big hold up admitting your sins, Hollywood elitists?
Sacheen Littlefeather’s budding career in film was destroyed that night. She was instantly blacklisted (or is that red-listed?) and never appeared in a movie or TV show again. Walking onto that television stage was a big sacrifice to make for a young actress with a promising career, but Sacheen did so because she believed in the nobility of the cause she represented. She admired Brando’s gumption for turning down his Best Actor "Oscar" for The Godfather on the first world-wide live television broadcast of the awards ceremony in order to share a most important message. Viewers around the world heard the name “Wounded Knee” for the first time and were motivated to find out more about the injustices that happened there.
Littlefeather’s life hadn’t been a bed of roses before the incident at the Academy Awards. She was sent at a very young age to live with her maternal grandparents. They forced her to attend an all-white Catholic school where she felt like she didn't fit in. But she started to reconnect with her Apache roots as she matured and became an activist in the 1960s.
Sacheen received a degree in holistic health and nutrition after she suffered from collapsed lungs, a consequence of her childhood tuberculosis, at the age of 29. Using her healing knowledge, she joined with Mother Teresa to take care of AIDS sufferers in hospices. As a mentor, she has become an admirable role model for many young Native Americans.
one will ever convince me that the Academy is just about the arts and
sciences of motion pictures. Hollywood
just as political (perhaps
more so) as Washington, DC. Obscenely wealthy, powerful white males
be seen as “weak” to
the lower classes, so
they couldn’t be
apology to a Native American activist concerning
their racist conduct in
1973...or 1983...or 1993… or 2003...or 2013...
That it took almost five decades, a documentary about Sacheen’s life, and the public acknowledgment that she is battling breast cancer, only proves how little their apology really means to them.
So why are they doing it now? There could be some genuine contrition on some of their parts. But I think it’s more likely because the internet has made it far easier for folks to see the horrors of racism up close and personal.
White elites, like the oligarchs of Hollywood, know that they are making big business off of people of color worldwide and that market is growing. It’s better for their profit margins for them not to be confused with your garden variety, right-winger, white-robe-wearing yahoo type of racist. They want to clean up their image in order to make more money.
If there’s anything that neoliberals have learned over the last six years, it’s this: Make a big production out of looking like a humble servant of the people while you simultaneously screw over the public by spewing tons of propaganda to sell your sick and twisted version of reality.
You know the reality I speak of
all too well. It’s the neoliberal reality where $800+ billion goes to a
proxy war (with
nuclear war overtones) to fatten the military industrial complex billionaires. It's the reality where nothing
goes to feed, house, or provide medical care for struggling
working class Americans. In neoliberal reality, there's no such thing as "discrimination" or "racism" because what neoliberals themselves don't experience cannot possibly be happening elsewhere in their country or anywhere on the planet.
You might have been taught from an early age to think that the “good guys” in the movies where the white cowboys like John Wayne and the “bad guys” were the red-skinned “savages” native to North America. Sacheen Littlefeather’s brave sacrifice in front of the cameras in 1973 proves that narrative wrong on oh-so-many levels. Her courage in real life is a billion times more heroic than any silly stunt openly racist John Wayne might have performed on the silver screen.
May many more activists follow Sacheen Littlefeather's example both now and in the future.
The Human Species is Acting Like a Self-Destructive Individual
Toledo Pride Parade
Seen on Twitter:
The Academy has finally apologized to Sacheen Littlefeather, after she was booed and heckled and almost violently assaulted by a drunken John Wayne in 1973 — and it only them 50 years. pic.twitter.com/pSnYlQ3uAe— Lakota Man (@LakotaMan1) August 15, 2022
Being casually racist in academia = objective scholar— Dr. Matthieu Chapman (@matthieuchapman) August 21, 2022
Calling out casual racism in academia = violent activist
Do i have that right?
Native American women were not granted U.S. citizenship until 1924.— AJ+ (@ajplus) August 26, 2022
Literacy tests and poll taxes were used to disenfranchise them as late as 1962.
Some states labeled them "wards of the state" and claimed living on a reservation excluded Native women from voting rights. pic.twitter.com/EqJuPaIXCR